Nationality: American. Born: Oakland, California, 21 March 1922. Military Service: Served in U.S. Army Signal Corps, World War II. Family: Married 1) Betty Meyel (divorced); 2) Eve Meyer (divorced); 3) Edy Williams (divorced). Career: Made prize-winning amateur films in his early teens; spent World War II in Europe as a combat photographer; returned to United States and worked as an industrial filmmaker for Standard Oil and other companies; worked for Playboy magazine as a centerfold photographer; became commercial filmmaker, 1959. Office: c/o RM Films International, P.O. Box 3748, Hollywood, CA 90078–3748, U.S.A.
Films as Director:
The Immoral Teas ( Mr. Teas and His Playthings ; Steam Heat ) (+ sc, ed, ro)
The Naked Camera (+ sc, ph)
Eve and the Handyman (+ sc, pr, ph, ed); Erotica ( Eroticon ) (+ sc, pr, ph, ed, ro)
Wild Gals of the Naked West! ( Immoral Girls of the Naked West ; Naked Gals of the Golden West ) (+ sc, pr, ed, ro)
Heavenly Bodies! ( Heavenly Assignment ) (+ sc, pr, ph, ed, ro); Europe in the Raw (+ sc, pr, ph, ed); Skyscrapers and Brassieres (+ sc, ph)
Lorna (+ sc, pr, ph); Fanny Hill ( Romp of Fanny Hill )
Mudhoney ( Rope ; Rope of Flesh ) (pr, ed, ro as man in lynching crowd); Motorpsycho ( Motor Mods and Rockers ; Rio Vengeance ) (+ sc, pr, ph, ed, ro as sheriff); Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ( The Leather Girls ; The Mankillers ; Pussycat ) (+ sc, pr, ed)
Mondo Topless ( Mondo Girls ) (pr, ph, ed)
Good Morning . . . and Goodbye! ( The Lust Seekers ) (+ ph, ed); Common Law Cabin ( Big Six ; Conjugal Cabin ; How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? ) (+ sc, pr, ed)
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (+ sc, ph, ed); Vixen! ( Russ Meyer's Vixen ) (+ sc, pr, ph, ed)
Cherry, Harry, and Raquel! ( Megavixens ; Three Ways to Love ) (+ sc, pr, ph, ed)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls ( Hollywood Vixens ) (+ sc, pr)
The Seven Minutes
Blacksnake! ( Duchess of Doom ; Slaves ; Sweet Suzy ) (+ sc, pr)
Supervixens ( SuperVixens Eruption ; Vixens ) (+ sc, pr, ph, ed, ro as motel manager)
Up! ( Over, under, and up! ; Up! Smokey ) (+ sc [as B. Callum], pr, ph, ed, uncredited ro)
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (+ sc [as B. Callum], pr, ph, ed, ro as himself)
That's Sexploitation (doc) (ro as himself)
Amazon Women on the Moon (Dante) (ro as Video Salesman)
Cult People (doc) (ro as himself)
Hollywood Rated 'R' (doc) (ro as himself); Playboy's Volup- tuous Vixens (Allen) (ro as himself)
The Story of X (doc) (ro as himself); Voluptuous Vixens II (doc) (ro as himself)
By MEYER: books—
Meyer, Russ (as Adolph Schwartz), A Clean Breast: The Lives and Loves of Russ Meyer. Hauck Publishers, 1993.
On MEYER: books—
Frasier, David, Russ Meyer—The Life and Films: A Biography and a Comprehensive, Illustrated and Annotated Filmography and Bibliography , North Carolina, 1990.
On MEYER: articles—
Morris, Gary, "An Interview with Russ Meyer," in Bright Lights Film Journal (San Francisco), no. 16, April 1996.
"Knocker, Knocker, Who's There?" at Rough Cut , http://www.roughcut.com/main/drivel_97apr4.html , 4 April 1997.
Rabin, Nathan, "Russ Meyer" (interview), at The Onion A.V. Club , http://www.theavclub.com/avclub3408/avfeatures3408.html , 24 September 1998.
Sargeant, Jack, and Stephanie Watson, " Rope of Flesh : Culture and Identity in Russ Meyer's Mudhoney ," in Necronomicon: The Journal of Horror and Erotic Cinema, Book Two , London, 1998.
Gebroe, David, "Russ Meyer: Evolution of the Supervixen," at http://www.snackcake.com/5/russ.html , 18 May 2000.
Crane, Jonathan L., "A Lust for Life: The Cult Films of Russ Meyer," in Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and Its Critics , edited by Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper, London, 2000.
* * *
Sleaze merchant or misunderstood artist? Glorified pornographer or directorial genius? Such questions have haunted Russ Meyer throughout his career. But regardless of the debates and critical misperceptions surrounding the man's work, his place in cinema history is secure, and with four of his films a part of the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection, it cannot be denied that Russ Meyer's corpus forms an indelible part of America's cultural landscape.
Born March 21, 1922, in Oakland, California, Meyer's father was a policeman and his mother a nurse. While in his early teens, the young Russ began making amateur films, winning prizes in contests by the age of fifteen. At the start of World War II, Meyer joined the army, and was assigned to the 166th Signal Photographic Corps, where he was to film General Omar Bradley's First Army and General George S. Patton's Third Army throughout Germany and France. Some of Meyer's amazing war footage turned up later in Franklin Schaffner's 1970 film, Patton. Returning home after his stint as a newsreel cameraman, Meyer began shooting industrial pictures for companies such as Standard Oil. An interest in commercial filmmaking was temporarily put on hold when he found that Hollywood had no interest in his radical/raunchy ideas. So instead, the well-trained photographer with a passion for well-endowed females turned to Playboy , where he is credited with shooting some of the magazine's earliest centerfolds.
In 1959, Meyer joined forces with producer Peter DeCenzie, owner of the El Ray Burlesque Theatre in Oakland. Given a budget of only $76,000 to work with, Meyer filmed The Immoral Mr. Teas in a mere five days. The first soft-core porn film to earn a substantial profit (over a million dollars), Mr. Teas was a huge success and inspired a "nudie-flick" craze which resulted in approximately 150 substandard endeavors within a three-year period, including five by Meyer himself. Not surprisingly, this craze led to a great deal of controversy, with Hollywood condemning the films in question as "sleaze" and "smut." The censorship debates which followed, however, eventually resulted in a more tolerant policy towards the presentation of sexually explicit content on the big screen.
With the money earned from Mr. Teas , Meyers began to self-finance a string of low-budget drive-in features (all of which he directed, and many of which he wrote, edited, and/or photographed), features which became increasingly bizarre, violent, and cartoonish. In 1964–65, during his so-called "Gothic Period," Meyer established himself as both a cinematic visionary and a commercially successful auteur. The quartet of stark black-and-white films released during this period— Lorna , Mudhoney (a.k.a. Rope of Flesh ), Motorpsycho , and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! —are considered by many to be his best work, as he downplayed the bawdy voyeurism in favor of more sinister, narrative-driven films. Lorna tells the story of a young, beautiful, sexually frustrated housewife who temporarily falls for an escaped convict. By the time she realizes the error of her ways, it is too late, as she winds up dead following a tussle with her former lover. Among the many surprises of this erotic morality play is the acting of Hal Hopper, utterly convincing as a vulgar rapist with a hankering for Lorna. Hopper also stars in Mudhoney (based on the Friday Locke novel, Streets Paved with Gold ), this time as a drunken scoundrel who winds up getting lynched after going insane and burning down his wife's barn. Like so many of Meyer's films, Mudhoney exudes a visual, as well as a diegetic, pleasure in assertive, big-breasted women. But as Stephanie Watson and Jack Sargeant point out, unlike the other films "it both resonates with, and examines the construction of, the American Dream, in a way which goes beyond kitsch parody."
With Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! , Meyer reached the height of his creative powers. This proto-feminist tale of kidnapping, cat-fighting, and drag-racing stars a trio of ample-chested butch outlaws who let off steam any way they want to out in the middle of the desert. Called a "head-on collision of respectable art and worthless trash" by one critic, Faster Pussycat! was made at the suggestion of Meyer's wife Eve, and provided a welcome alternative to the often-misogynistic male action films of the era. Though Meyer focuses as much as ever on the gigantic breasts of his lead actresses, these are not dumb bimbos but canny women with a penchant for sadism and an insatiable need for action and excitement.
After the blockbuster success of Vixen! in 1968, Meyer was hired by 20th Century-Fox to make big-budget studio pictures. The first of these, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), was a huge hit, combining Meyer's trademark directorial style with 1960's subculture jargon provided by a young Roger Ebert. This "sex-'n'-sleaze" masterpiece was followed the next year by an uncharacteristically serious production, The Seven Minutes , which garnered only a lukewarm reception amongst both audiences and critics.
With Blacksnake! (1973), Meyer returned to the kind of filmmaking he did best, and continued in the sex-and-violence vein until his directorial career reached its logical (or rather, absurd) conclusion in 1979 with Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Since then, in addition to appearing as himself in a number of X-rated documentaries, and overseeing the distribution of his films in Europe and around the world, Meyer has spent his time working on various autobiographies—both in print ( A Clean Breast ) and in film (the uncompleted Breast of Russ Meyers ). Fitting occupations for a man who, in the words of historian David Gebroe, "unleashed a slew of epic Freudian fantasies upon the silver screen of the drive-in," a man who has spent his entire professional life "rewriting history though the perspective of the overflowing bust."